Walking out of the Public Theater on April 2nd, I not only learned a word in Spanish that I’d never heard before (in case you were wondering, intríngulis means complex web or ulterior motive – see below), but I also walked out dumbfounded at an outstanding one-man performance. Carlo Albán, most known for his six-year career as “Carlo” on Sesame Street, has also had roles in Strangers with Candy, 21 Grams, Law & Order, Touched by an Angel, and Thicker than Blood, as well as José Rivera’s References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot, John Patrick Shanley’s A Winter Party, and Stephen Belber’s A Small Melodramatic Story. In his play, Intríngulis, Carlo, now 28, explores the journey he and his family went through after immigrating from Ecuador to the U.S., and he does so using a creative tornado of singing famous Latin American and American protest songs jumbled with acting out different personalities to tell the story of the immigrant. Ultimately, he demonstrates how we are all alike in the end.
How did you come up with the name of the play?
The title came from the lyrics of one of the songs in the show – specifically Victor Jara’s, Las Casitas del Barrio Alto, (a Spanish adaptation of Pete Seeger’s Little Boxes). When I was ready to do the first reading of the script for my theater company (Labyrinth Theater Co.), I still didn’t have a title. I wanted it to be something that really spoke about the piece, preferably something that was IN the script. At one point, I considered calling it, The Ire of Our People, (as per the novel I tried to write when I was 9) but I thought that was a little too heavy. So finally, right before the reading, as I translated the song lyrics (the last thing I did), I ran across this word, intríngulis, which I had to look up. It means a complex web, or an ulterior motive. I felt it encapsulated the show, and it was a really interesting word that most people don’t know – even Spanish speakers. So it became the title. Later on, I considered changing it, because it’s SO unfamiliar, and maybe somewhat cryptic, but several people convinced me otherwise, and now I love it. I don’t think it’ll change.
What was your reason for and/or sparked writing the play?
I’ve always wanted to tell this story. It’s something I grew up with that screamed out to me to tell, but I couldn’t. So when I finally felt like I could, meaning once I felt safe enough to tell the story, once we were legal, I started developing ideas in my head. I started writing everything I could remember down. I carried a notebook with me at all times (I still do) and whenever I thought of something I would write it down. Eventually I wrote a screenplay, which was kind of a really sanitized version of the story. I put that away once I finished it. The idea to tell the story in the format in which it exists now, as Intríngulis, occurred one day when my Mom had me listen to a recording of Joan Baez singing an old Mexican folk song (La Llorona). I was thrown by the fact that this American singer, who had dated Bob Dylan, was singing Spanish folk songs. It was then that something clicked in my head. I realized the close relationship between musical movements in the U.S. and Latin America – folk music and protest music. From there, the idea for Intríngulis was born, and once again, I started collecting ideas and writing everything down.
Why did you decide to perform each of the characters within the play, and to fragment it the way you did – part music, part different characters, and part your own personal story?
The format was an extension of the writing process. It was conducive to that type of fragmentation. I followed an exercise called “Morning Pages” in which the first thing you do when you get up in the morning is write longhand – a certain number of pages or for a set amount of time. I would write for about an hour every morning. Since the concept was in my head already, most of the time what came out was in some way related to the show. Sometimes they were stories, sometimes they were voices, and sometimes they were random fragments of thoughts. Finally at one point, I typed all the material I had, and I started cutting and pasting, mixing and matching. I started seeing correlations between some of the voices, and out of that the characters were born. The stories about myself I made cohesive and found a chronological narrative. The music is there because the original spark came from music, and because music has always been an integral part of me. It’s also something I wanted to share, because I think that music is just so beautiful. It’s something my parents gave me and which I will always carry with me.
How long did it take you to write it?
I did the original script over a period of nine months, but I’ve worked on it a lot since then, and I’m still working on it. It’s very much a work in progress. So, I guess you could say it’s taken me two and a half years so far.
Where do you live now?
I split my time between NJ and NYC.
How did you get a job at Sesame Street? How old were you?
Sesame Street was another audition among hundreds. Originally I auditioned for the 25th Anniversary Special which they shot in Central Park. They liked me and carried me over to the show. I was fourteen when I started.
You are one of the most multi-talented people I have ever seen. Have you always had a calling for performing? How did you realize it?
I’ve always sang – not in a performance setting though – more like, in the shower, on road trips, or along with the stereo. As far as acting, I never had any intentions of becoming an actor. I fell into it when I was 11. My family was visiting some friends in Union City, NJ, and their children were auditioning for a community theater production of Oliver, so my brother and I went along just to accompany them. Because they needed little orphan boys, they assumed that we were there to audition as well, so they gave us sides, gave us music and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer when we told them we were only there to watch. I ended up being cast as Oliver and my brother as one of the orphans. I met my agent there. Shortly thereafter, she started sending me out on auditions. Three years later, I got on Sesame Street.
Now that you are a citizen, do you think all the struggle was worth it in the end?
Do you work anywhere else by day?
I’ve had all kinds of jobs along the way. I’ve worked in the kitchen of a pizzeria, as a bartender, busboy, video editor, bike messenger, teaching artist…You never know when the next opportunity is going to present itself.
I could tell by watching the play that you love NJ, but what is your favorite thing about NYC?
New York is the most diverse city I’ve ever experienced. I love the energy that stems out of the myriad cultures that meet there. There’s a little bit of every part of the world I think.
What does “cosmopolatino” mean to you?
Hmm…a cranberry and vodka cocktail on a caribbean beach…? Or not…Well, in this day and age, with so much instant connection, I think it is what everyone will eventually be…Not only cosmopolatino, but cosmopoeuropeo, cosmopoafricano, cosmopoaustraliano, cosmopoLOQUESEA…It is what this world is fast approaching – a global cosmopolitanism – that is, if we can keep our wits about us, and learn to filter out those who would convince us otherwise.
The last performance of Intríngulis is Monday, April 9 at 7pm. And will take place at Martinson Hall at the Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street). Tickets are on sale now and are available by visiting http:// www.labtheater.org. All tickets are $25.